WISCONSIN DELLS, Wis. – When Aaron Augustian changed how and when he applied manure to his fields, planting 100 percent green became a reality. Low disturbance manure applications opened up the opportunity to plant more cover crops while improving soil health and protecting water quality.  
“In the past, we applied the majority of our manure in the fall, but we knew that wasn’t the right thing to do,” said Augustian, who farms in partnership with his brother near Kewaunee where they move about 13-15 million gallons of manure per year. “We wanted to try different things.”
Augustian shared his story during a panel entitled “Management trade-offs from low disturbance manure applications” at the Discovery Farms Conference Dec. 15, 2021, in Wisconsin Dells. 
Featuring members of the Demonstration Farms Network in northeast Wisconsin – Augustian of Augustian Farms and Jacob Brey of Brey Cycle Farms – the panel also included Jesse Dvorachek of Dvorachek Farm and Industry and was moderated by Barry Bubolz, Natural Resources Conservation Service Great Lakes Restoration Initiative field coordinator. 
“In 2017, we were asked to be part of the Demo Farms Network,” said Augustian, who milks 1,000 cows and farms 1,500 acres. “That’s when we moved to cover crops and low disturbance manure application.” 
Demonstration farms are dedicated to testing new and standard conservation systems in their watershed and sharing lessons learned with other farmers. An example would be low disturbance manure application which aims to limit soil disturbance. With no more than 30% row width disturbance, application is made into a living crop or cover crop and can ideally be followed up with no-till planting. 
For the past two years, the Augustians have done low disturbance manure injection and had cover on all their ground. 
“It’s been working great,” Augustian said. “We establish cover crops in the fall with rye after corn silage and do 15% of our corn in interseeding. We’re going to increase to 40%-45% this year so it will alleviate trying to get rye in at the same time as chopping corn silage in the fall. Some of our farmland is 50 yards off Lake Michigan, and I think the cooler weather helps establish those grasses and clovers.”
The Augustians run about 100 acres of wheat and follow with a multi-species cover crop. LDMI is done on wheat fields in August after the wheat is harvested and cover crops planted at a rate of about 6,000 to 8,000 gallons per acre or what the soils can take at that time, up to 10,000 gallons. 
“In the past, we put all of our nutrients out in one pass,” Augustian said. “It wasn’t good for soil health. We wanted to put on less but still get the correct amount of nutrients, and LDMI fit into that equation very well. Now we’re doing multiple passes, fall and spring.”
When Augustians take off fourth-crop hay, they put in a multi-species cover crop after that as well. 
“I just feel after four years of heavy truck traffic on our heavy, red clay soils, we want to get some deep-rooted plants in there like turnips, radishes, rye grasses and clovers,” Augustian said. “The soil here needs diversity and a deeper root zone, and this seems to be working good for us. Come spring, the soil seems mellower planting into it versus regular alfalfa.” 
The Augustians also apply manure on interseeded fields when corn silage comes off. Augustian injects manure into standing rye and has found success doing so at any stage. Rye may be just popping out of the ground or it might be 3 to 4 inches tall when the applicators arrive. They then come back in spring and repeat the process. 
“Rye is a pretty resilient plant, and we haven’t had a whole lot of issues with burning or running it down – it just snaps back,” Augustian said. “It seems we can be out there planting rye then put manure on five days later with no issues.” 
Brey farms in Sturgeon Bay with his brother, Tony, and their families. The Breys milk about 700 cows and farm 1,200 acres while also raising beef cattle and custom raising heifers. 
“We’re in the business of growing forages on our land; we don’t grow any grain,” Brey said. “The last three years, we moved to a double crop system on all acres. After corn silage or sorghum sudangrass comes off in the fall, we’re immediately going with the no-till drill and seeding down either winter rye or winter triticale. We plant triticale in September because it needs to be in the ground sooner, around the time wheat is established. After we get that seeded down, we move into rye.” 
Brey uses a bazooka toolbar to apply 9,000 gallons of manure per acre in the fall to a growing cover crop. 
“When you see this LDMI toolbar going over a freshly planted rye field, you think it’s going to rip up all the seed, but rye is a really incredible crop,” Brey said. “You could probably throw it on concrete and it would germinate.”
Cover crops soak up the nutrients over winter and spring before the Breys take off the crop for forage.
“Triticale is a little higher quality so we feed it to dairy cows as a replacement for alfalfa,” Brey said. “We take winter rye off at the end of May before the first cutting of alfalfa and feed it to heifers.”
The Breys then do another pass of LDMI, putting on about 10,000 gallons per acre before no- tilling corn into the ground a few days later. 
“We try to have a living cover crop on the ground every day of the year if possible,” Brey said.  
Brey also has a Dietrich toolbar for the back of a manure tanker to haul to fields that are farther away. The toolbar has a wavy coulter and two discs that act as closing wheels behind it, which Brey has seen success with. 
“We don’t want to have any runoff at all, and I see these toolbars as the future,” Brey said. “I think the days of shooting manure out the back of a tanker and broadcasting it probably need to go behind us. It’s not only visually unappealing, but you also lose nutrients to the atmosphere. We want to get them into the ground to reduce runoff and get nutrients where plants need them. This is especially important now with high fertilizer prices. We need to maximize every gallon of manure we have.” 
Dvorachek is a manure hauler and applicator and owner of Dvorachek Farm and Industry in Brillion. Dvorachek said he works with progressive farmers, pumping about 250 million gallons of dairy manure per year through drag line and direct drag and pushing 15,000 to 18,000 gallons per acre. 
“I think LDMI is great, but it is more cost to the grower,” Dvorachek said. “Making multiple applications and multiple setups means I’m less efficient. I can’t just show up once. I’m constantly moving back and forth from farm to farm.” 
Dvorachek said there are a lot of windows in Wisconsin for spreading manure as well as a lot of tools.
“We use the app on our phone which tells us the best time to spread,” he said. “If we see high risk for rain, we won’t spread. When it comes to toolbars, I’ve used them all, and there is no perfect tool. I’d say it’s easiest to own a dribble bar. They’re less expensive, and there’s a lot of opportunity for coverage.” 
Augustian and Brey have embraced LDMI with open arms and are enjoying the benefits.
“Last spring, we were lucky enough Mother Nature cooperated with us, and we were able to plant 100 percent of our farm green,” Augustian said. “We didn’t use any tillage tools last year. That’s our ultimate goal with LDMI.” 
Brey encourages other farmers to give methods like LDMI a try.
“You can start at any time,” Brey said. “You don’t need to wait. But you need to be able to accept that your fields might not look as perfect or neat as you like them to at first, but that’s just part of the transition.”